For the the first time in a while Vancouver’s The New Pornographers have an album that sounds definitively…new. Embedding synths, electronics and the right sense of tone, the band managed to craft a consistent atmosphere on their new record Whiteout Conditions that not only feels fresh but consistent too. Without the writing of Dan Bejar to boot, it’s one of their most unique records to say the least. In the midst of a tour with Spoon, ahead of their fall tour, we caught up with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kathryn Calder to talk about their big changes, how they manage their other projects and just why their music has ended up everywhere over the years.
Northern Transmissions: With your members more than ever all doing their own things between records, how do you manage to lock together for your records so tightly, and has it become harder over the years?
Kathryn Calder: It’s somewhat organized chaos making albums and organizing tours. One thing that really helps is that everyone feels the band is a priority for them. What’s nice about a band like ours is things are usually decided a couple months in advance. I’ve been in it long enough to know the ebb and flow of how things go. When I schedule a record of mine, I can’t always figure out exactly when it will come out until things are done. But I’ll know that in January of 2018 I’ll be fairly free. You get a feel for when you’ll have breaks and schedule things. For this last record, Carl sent things to me at my home, and I’d record stuff at home over it. We just work it out as we go every time, we work out who’s free and busy, and what we can make work. I’m sure it’s a nightmare for people who organize us but we all love the band so we make it work.
NT: Does Carl’s lead writing voice, keep the creative process from being an idea throwing nightmare?
KC: Carl and John are in charge of the recording, so they really are the ones working on the vision. We all throw ideas at them and they sift through to see what fits. We all know that. If Carl sent me something to record, he’d say “Hey can you throw some vocals here, whatever you think.” I would come up with a bunch and send it back, knowing he might ask for something different. Carl’s in charge, we just try and help get it to his vision.
NT: I thought it was also interesting that this album seemed so focused on that aesthetic where your other albums jump around more, what was the thought process behind locking into the tone and staying on it?
KC: That was definitely something Carl was going for with this record, the cohesiveness. This record really built of the last record, just taking it even further. I hear Carl talking about it a lot, “bubblegum kraut-rock” and I thought that was interesting. When you have an idea like that which is very evocative, it will naturally tie the record together. “Play Money” which is one of the anchor tracks of the record, when they came up with the synth and drum looping sounds, they knew it’s what the record should be. He took one song and modeled the record around the idea of synths. He’s just in that synth mode right now, synths are very fun, you can get so many sounds. When I listen to some of my favourite records, they’re all cohesive, it’s one of the things that make a great record is that particular vibe and atmosphere. It will evoke a particular time and place for you. Joni Mitchell’s Blue for example has a very particular feel from start to finish. I have that in mind for my record to have a mood, Carl was thinking that too.
NT: I know Dan and Carl have always written separately so did having Dan away working on his Destroyer album, add to this sense of overall cohesion?
KC: I think so. It gave us an opportunity to really streamline it with one songwriter.
NT: Did your switch from Kurt to Joe on drums change up the thrust of the record?
KC: I think that with everything, everyone has their own personality to add to things. They just too Joe’s personality to come up with cool parts for the record, and that’s what you hear.
NT: Why did you decide to put this out on your own label this time and what did that mean for you guys?
KC: Our label is Concord doing all the heavy lifting, but it made sense for us to have our own imprint. I don’t know what will become of that, I don’t know if we plan any acts at some point, you never know. It’s cool, when we found out that was part of the plan, it just seemed like it made sense and was a smart way to do it. It’s the best of both worlds doing our own thing and having them do the heavy lifting.
NT: It’s also been super interesting to see how popular your music has become for commercials and TV, is there a reason you feel your music has lent itself so well to soundtracks?
KC: It’s so loose. Somebody working on that or any show, think of your band’s music when they’re putting a scene together. You can’t make that happen any other way than someone just thinking of you. Certainly I think the band’s popularity helps but we do know we’re lucky for those opportunities. I’m not sure if it’s that Dan lives in New York, even though most of those shows are made in L.A. or if it’s because most of instrumentals fit in well because they’re upbeat. More shows might be looking for something upbeat rather than ambient or quiet, I’m only speculating. You can’t count on those kinds of opportunities, it’s cool though. It’s fun having people texting you “Wow I just heard you on “The Good Wife.”
Words by Owen Maxwell